Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Climbing the Mountains

When the Leeds and Liverpool Canal was built the builders, luckily, decided to parallel the path of the River Aire which was itself too mercurial in character to be part of the waterways system.  The result,, for us is a green, wooded and picturesque route through the Aire Valley to enjoy cruising along.  You are in the midst of the industrial area of Yorkshire and yet the canal is very pastoral.

The next big form of transport to go through this same area, the railroad, had other ideas.  No leisurely meandering for them.  They blasted their way from one side to the other of an area called The Nosegay, creating the long Thackley Railway Tunnel .  Their goal, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.  Yep, but not nearly as pretty.

And now, in the age of the automobile, the recently created Airedale relief road took no notice of the canal when planning its route.  This resulted in the literal need to move a section of the canal several hundred feet to accommodate the new road.  The almighty car must not be stopped, now must it.

What the future will bring only the future knows.

As I said earlier, this used to be a very highly industrialized area. At one time there was a thriving Kirkstall Brewery  that used the canal to get its kegs of beer to market.  The brewery building has now been converted to housing for Leeds University students.  Tell me what student or parent would not appreciate the irony in that. 

Further along are the romantic ruins of Kirkstall Abbey where Cistercian monks used to work and worship.  But then, once again, along came Henry VIII and the Abbey was no more.  But the beautiful ruins are still a wonderful sight to behold.

A former textile mill along the canal has been turned into lovely canal side housing with newer units built up around it that blend well with the 1896 former mill.  High end, historic housing with a view.

Eventually you enter the village of Saltaire, a purpose built residential village created by Sir Titus Salt  in the 19th century to house his mill workers.  The village is still a wonderful and picturesque place thanks to the imaginative reuse of former industrial buildings for restaurants, pubs, residential and commercial purposes.  Way to go.

At Bingley, which we will be going through next, there is a rise of 5 connected and large locks (built in 1774!) that move the boat 60 feet up into the Pennines.  Before that were 3 locks we went through that rise you 30 feet and before that a double lock that takes you up18 feet and one lock that rises you 10 feet.  So, in the 5 miles between Saltair and Bingley you rise a total of almost 120 feet!  You have to find that at least somewhat impressive.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

We Have Ice ...Inside

Yep, it's that cold. 

When we got up this morning our thermometer showed 0 Celsius inside and -3 in the krach.

The windows had ice on the inside and there were tiny icicles hanging from the tops of the windows, also inside.

We got the stove super hot super quick and huddled around cups of coffee and tea until the windows began to thaw and things felt a little warmer.

It reminded me of the Little House books where Laura and Mary would make pictures with Ma's thimble in the frost on the windows.  It is much more enjoyable to read about it than to be in that kind of cold, just in case you are curious.

But still no snow for our part of England.  :-(

Saturday, December 27, 2014

MIA :-(

The snow, while falling in other places in the UK, did not fall here.  It would have been nice to have had a little white stuff to celebrate the holidays but it was not to be.

We have had, however, some cold nights here.  Today it was almost freezing INSIDE the boat when it was time to get up this morning.  I tell you, it takes a lot of resolve to get out of a warm bed in those conditions.  It also helps to not think about it before you do it.  And, since my brain is normally not engaged before my first cup of coffee I manage to get my feet onto the very cold floor before I ask myself what the HECK I am doing. :-)

We have remained at Apperly Bridge Marina since our return from Wales due to the heavy winds.  We watched one boat make attempt to leave and be blown up against the wall where it remained until the wind finally decided to calm down just enough so it could return to its mooring.  Mike and I, upon reflection, decided not to fight mother nature.  We took it as a sign that we were supposed to holiday here.

Today, however, if all goes as planned, we will be continuing on our journey and heading toward Skipton.  I have 16 locks and some swing bridges to man handle so think of me, please.  The part that will probably suffer the most are my poor feet.  They do so hate the cold.  It might require a glass of hot mulled wine to aid the thawing at the end of the day.  What do you think?

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas

The days here have been very windy and cool/cold but no snow for our Christmas.  However, I just heard on the radio that 4 inches is forecast for tomorrow which is Boxing Day.  If so, I will enjoy it.  I miss the snow at holiday time.  After that it can go away until next year. :-) 

I have been busy making munchies which we enjoyed yesterday.  It is a family tradition to eat all kinds of favorite appetizers on Christmas Eve. We have done it since the girls were small and it just wouldn't be the same without them.This year we did the usual shrimp and cream cheese, cheese ball, and Meg's cheesy things as well as some pate and potato skins.  Plenty left over to get us through to dinner and some will probably end up in the freezer for later in the new year.

For dinner we will be having roast beef  and figgy pudding in memory of Aunt Evelyn. Veg, 24 hour fruit salad and mashed potatoes along with my grandmother's Christmas bread will round out the menu.  Again, the leftovers will be many but traditions mean too much to ignore.

We will be listening to Christmas carols and the Queen's speech later today, sipping some O'Neill's Famous Egg Nog and probably watching a movie later.

Heartfelt wishes for a Very Merry Christmas to all of you.

Monday, December 22, 2014

His Home Was Where His Heart Was

We are currently parked in a marina.  We came here almost two weeks ago in anticipation of leaving the boat for our holiday in Wales.

Boaters are friendly people.  We quickly met the couple to the right of us who live year round on their boat in the marina and commute to work from here. ( Boat living is more financially feasible than owning a home here.  The prices for even a small  non detached home can be quite high.)  On the left side we met the daughter and grandson of the boat owner, an older gentleman of about 85.  He has lived on his boat for at least 40 years!

The older gentleman has contracted pneumonia but he wanted to remain on his boat.  It was where he was most comfortable and at peace with life.  His family agreed to his wishes and visited him to check up on things several times a day.

Yesterday, when we returned from Wales, we talked with both the daughter and the grandson and the gentleman seemed to be holding his own, basically.

Sometime during the night he went home to God.

Our thoughts, prayers and sympathy are with those who are left behind to grieve and miss him being part of their lives. 

However, how wonderful that he was able to have his last wish of passing where he had lived.  May we all be as lucky. 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

A Prayer for the Stressed (Not that anyone is right now:-)

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I cannot accept,
And the wisdom to hide the bodies of those I had to kill today because they got on my nerves.

And also, help me to be careful of the toes I step on today
As they may be connected to the feet I may have to kiss tomorrow.

Help me always to give 100% at work....
12% on Monday
23% on Tuesday
40% on Wednesday
20% on Thursday
And 5% on Friday

And help me to remember...
When I'm having a bad day and it seems that people are trying to wind me up it takes
     42 muscles to frown,
     28 muscles to smile
     and only 4 to extend my arm and smack someone in the mouth.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Leeds to St. David's in Wales

Mike's birthday is Saturday.  As an early birthday present we have spent this week at St. David's in Wales.  It is a wonderful place to visit and a popular tourist area in the summer since it is surrounded by beautiful shoreline, puffins, waves for surfing, islands to explore and beaches to walk.  Since it is the off season some of these are not available to us, like surfing in the cold, but it has still been wonderful!
We took the train from Leeds to Swansea and then rented a car to finish the trip here.  The countryside is beautiful with lush green fields, small cottages and sheep, sheep and more sheep.  Oh, and the roads are very narrow, very. (Check out the sign below concerning oncoming traffic. :-)  The signs are printed in both Welsh and English which is interesting.

We saw our first ever trucks spreading salt on the roads in anticipation of the roads freezing that night.  I just can't imagine driving those curvy, hilly, narrow roads when they are icy.  Luckily we were safely at our destination before anything froze.

As it got dark we drove past a lot more houses with lights and trees, inside and out, than we had seen before.  The lights and decorations, both in the homes and villages are very simple and hark back to when I was a kid fifty years ago.  I loved this vibe of a simpler time and found that it really did increase my Christmas spirit.  I love the feel of a simpler, slower, less commercial season. 

As we neared St. David's we passed through a small coastal village right on the shore and it grabbed me by the heart strings immediately.  I. LOVED. IT.  I would love to have stopped and stayed right there but we had to move on.  We have, however, returned there to walk the shoreline and soak in the peace and calm.

We are staying in a little self-catering flat here in St. David's that overlooks one of the two main streets and is in easy walking distance of shops and sights.  The buildings here are mainly built using the local stone which is green, red, yellow and the usual brown and black.  They are quite striking and it is easy to imagine people making their homes in them for hundreds of years.  They have that "I have been here forever" feel.


The town is centered around the cathedral.  The original was built by St. David about 1500 years ago.  St. David, the patron saint of Wales, is buried in the cathedral.  It has been enlarged and rebuilt over the centuries and is a wonderful building but also one built on a more human scale than many other cathedrals.  You can actually imagine people worshiping there or slipping in to say a personal prayer in times of great joy or sadness.

Next to the cathedral is the ruins of the former Bishop's Palace from which a succession of bishops oversaw their ecclesiastical see.  The people who oversee the ruins have done a wonderful job of giving you a sense of what the spaces would have looked like and been used for without overdoing it.  We really enjoyed seeing both spaces and we loved talking with the lady who was in the small shop at the ruins.  She really knew her stuff and gave us a good feel for the place.  She was a special treat to talk with.

A wonderful week and a fitting birthday celebration.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Gale Force Winds and Wood Blewits

For the last couple of days we have been having gale force winds and rain.  But then, all of a sudden the sun comes out for a few minutes.  However, don't get used to it because usually within just a few minutes the wind and the rain is back.  Facing that, I have spent most of my time in the boat being domestic:  cooking, crocheting and laundry.  I enjoy two out of the three so that isn't too bad.

Yesterday, during one of the sunny periods, I took a cloth bag and went to harvest some mushrooms I had spied on one of my walks.  I had done some online research after said walk and I was 99% sure I had correctly identified them as wood blewits which are quite common in England, in season now, and are excellent to eat.

However, after picking them I made one last check to make sure I had identified them correctly.  I did a spore print.  If they were wood blewits their spore print would be very light pink to light beige.  If they were the look alike that we don't want to eat, the spore print would be brown.

Upon checking this morning, we had a light pink/beige spore print.  Yeah!  So I have spent time today cleaning them and dry frying them in preparation to freezing them.  I see some stroganoff in our future and some other wonderful recipes yet to be decided.

I am also making some double chocolate chip cookies that are smelling wonderful and calling my name.  Sorry to run and eat but a girl has to do what a girl has to do. :-)

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Glistening shards of "Glass" and Figgy Pudding

When I went out at 8:30 this morning to take my walk the puddles on the canal path were iced over.  I realized just how frozen they were once a car had gone through them and thrown the broken ice pieces onto the path like so many pieces of broken glass.  They shimmered and sparkled in the light and were at least 1/4 inch thick.  Beautiful.

I walked past several narrow boats moored along the path and one had a full size, decorated Christmas tree set up in the stern.  It was a true decoration of the season.  The inflated Homer Simpson as Father Christmas that stood beside it, not so much.  But to each his own.

There was another boat that had strung Christmas lights all along the windows of the boat on the outside.  The lights were off by the time I walked by but I bet they look cheerful in the dark.  Maybe I will have to make a special effort to take a walk this evening to admire them.  

Along the walk I picked a couple of sprays of red berries from the hedgerow to bring back to the boat and use as part of our Christmas decorations.  I have them in the same vase as my swan feathers and they look a treat together.  A nice spot of color.

While out walking I shared some "conversations" with the local dogs (one of which was very talkative), horses, swans, ducks and geese.  It is such a peaceful part of the day shared with these beautiful creatures.  I did wonder, however, what the water fowl thought of the temp of the canal water this morning.  A little nippy I would think.

And now, on the the making and steaming of Mike's Grandmother's figgy pudding, updated to make it healthier by his wonderful Aunt Evelyn.  One of those traditions of Christmas you can't do without.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Bread Sponge

I have a problem. 

Through a lack of planning or because of poor memory (or both), I now find myself with a small amount of yeast and a too long period of time before I can buy my usual one pound package of yeast. 

So, I have started a starter.  (Confusing isn't it.) 

And today, I am attempting to make bread using said starter. 

To do so you must use the starter, water and flour to create a sponge.  This can take a minimum of   8hours and up to 24 hours (quick baking of bread is a non starter here). 

Then you add salt, sugar, flour and oil and make the usual dough.  Now it sits for about 2 hours to double.

Then, you form the loaves and bake them for close to one hour.

Add it up, that is a minimum of  11-12 hours.

So, start in the AM and bake in the PM.  EXCEPT.....

The starter I fed last night and sat out (it is normally kept in the frig) to wake up and begin to work again, well it thought it was still in the frig.  (Yep, once the stove goes out the boat can get that cold.)

Consequently, I had to take said starter, re feed it some, and sit it by the solid fuel stove this morning so that I could wake it up and have a hope of making bread today.  It made me a little later than ideal to start that 11-12 hour process.

So think of me as I sit here rather later into the night than usual and wait for my bread to finish.

But I am sure it will make great toast tomorrow morning. :-)

Sunday, December 7, 2014

4 Ingredients & 5 Minutes=Fudge

Since I was young I have always loved peanut butter fudge.  My Aunt Bobbie made the best peanut butter fudge. The. Best.

Every Thanksgiving and Christmas her wonderful fudge was there.  In my mind, peanut butter fudge has to be there at Christmas.

I have Aunt Bobbie's recipe.  I do NOT have her skill. 

Consequently, I have tried many fudge recipes over the years.  Some have worked, such as the one using marshmallow cream, but today I tried another recipe just because it looked too simple and easy to really work.  Boy was I wrong.

2 cups of powdered sugar, 1/4 cup milk (I used dried), 3/4 cup peanut butter, 1 tsp vanilla is all you need

Mix the sugar and milk together.  Bring the mixture to a full boil and then boil for 2.5 minutes

Remove from heat and add the peanut butter and vanilla and mix well

Pour into a greased dish (I had to use a small loaf pan since my choices here are very limited)

The mixture did not stick to the bottom of the pan.
It has set up.
The scrapings from the pan were delicious.

Win. Win. Win.


Well year one is officially behind us.  The numbers have all been recorded and added up.  And, for any of you who might be considering possibly doing something like this and wonder what your budget might look like, here are our numbers for that first year.  Remember, this is how we have lived here.  You will live differently and therefore some of the numbers, if not all of them, will be different for you.

Boat Purchase: £47,000  We wanted one ready to go.  If you don't mind a project or two you can find one cheaper.  Ours is 57 feet long and will, therefore, fit in every lock.  If you go much larger than 60 feet some locks are too small to handle you.  If we maintain the boat well we should get a hefty part of the purchase price (ideally almost all, but I like to dream) when we sell it back.

Boat Survey:  £430  This is done by a professional when you buy the boat.  He checks all the systems to make sure everything is safe to use and working appropriately.  He will also tell you what you need to do maintenance wise in the near term and longer term.  If you stay with him while he does the survey you can also learn a great deal of valuable information about your boat and how to maintain it.

Boat Items: £560.46   This is the cost of the items we needed to equip the boat when we first bought it such as dishes, sheets, pillows, etc.  It also reflects other items purchased since then to replace items that have broken (that happens when the boat occasionally kisses the wall of a lock) or items we later discovered would be nice to have like a small pressure cooker, hot water bottles and wicker baskets for keeping paperwork, craft items, etc. under control, a Brita water pitcher.

Household Items:  £676.72    Think chemicals for our toilet, laundry and dish detergent, soap and shampoo, cleaning products, replacement kitchen towels, scrubbers and washrags, toilet and face tissues, foil and plastic food storage bags,etc.

Groceries:  £2049.53  Remember, we eat most of our meals here on the boat and that is what this figure covers.  It does not cover meals eaten off the boat.  Also remember that I cook from scratch and make a lot of things that others (sane people I have been told :-) buy.  I also love to scope out the reduced to sell racks whenever I hit the store and buy a lot of items this way.  So, this is REALLY a very subjective and ballpark figure.

Phone/Hot Spot:  £444.95  One of the very first things we did here was to buy a GPS and then a phone.  When on the boat it acts as our internet hot spot so that we have connectivity and I can thrill or bore all of you with my ramblings. :-)  The monthly top up fee that gets us unlimited connectivity time is £20. 

Boat Insurance:  £194.37 per year  We carry a policy that covers damage to our boat and damage done by our boat.  We have a separate renter's policy that covers the items on the boat.

Boat License:  £870 per year   This allows you to cruise the waterways.  The length of your boat is a factor in the cost of the license.  This license helps provide the money to maintain the waterways and it gives you access to the water points to fill your water tank, the elsen buildings to empty your toilet cassettes, shower and laundry facilities, trash disposal, recycling containers, etc. 

Boat Maintenance: £1323.02  A substantial portion of this amount covered the cost of having the boat re blackened in the spring.  This is a process that is done every two to 3 years to help protect the boat against rust.  Novice boaters such as we are should probably opt for every two years since the boat tends to be subjected to more scrapes and bumps than those driven by more seasoned boaters.  On even the newest of boats oil needs to be changed, things need to be greased, batteries need to be maintained, etc.  Plan on it.

Propane: £105  Our stove top and oven run off propane.  The more you cook on the boat the more propane you will go through.  It is about £25 to £30 per container, at least where we have purchased it.

Diesel:  £1191.36   The diesel powers the engine.  It gets you down the waterways.  It also provides you with heat if you do not use a solid fuel stove and with electricity.

Coal and Kindling:  £216.14  When we bought the boat it came with several bags of coal for the solid fuel stove and then we had to begin purchasing our own.  Initially, we also purchased some kindling for helping to start the fires.  We burnt almost exclusively coal the first year when we weren't using the engine to keep us warm.  Now, we gather kindling and larger dead-fall limbs and use them to burn in the stove.  Our use of the engine to heat is mainly confined to heating the bathroom before showers.  :-)

Now, if you add in the more personal expenses that would vary widely from person to person such as travel, drinks, clothes, gifts, meds, etc.  this past year cost us £22,000.  And remember, we traveled A LOT.


Rodley, Newlay and Kirkstall

For the last couple of days we have been moored at Rodley on the Leeds and Liverpool.  It is a charming small village with very friendly people and dogs.  But, we almost didn't get here except for the kindness and physical strength of two nice gentlemen. 

I needed to move a swing bridge out of the way so that Mike could move the boat past.  Usually swing bridges are no big problem.  Most are pedestrian bridges and therefore smaller and lighter weight.  Bridges designed to take vehicles are usually an open weave metal type (you know what I mean, right) and therefore heavier but still no big problem.  This bridge, however, was a whole other animal!

It was a vehicle bridge with its steel frame, filled with what felt like concrete, and then capped with metal.  It literally weighed at least a ton!  I pushed.  I shoved.  I muttered.  I pushed some more.  I muttered some stronger words. And, just when I was about to give up and tell Mike we really didn't want to go anywhere did we, help arrived.

Two very nice (and the fact that they were nice looking didn't hurt either) men who work for the local council saw my plight, pulled their vehicle over, and came and manhandled the bridge out of the way and then back into its original position for me.  It was WONDERFUL!  They were even nice enough to tell me they found the bridge heavy going, too.  (I think that is called a little white lie to be kind as is totally acceptable.)

I have found, many times, that the people over here are very nice about helping.  And always with a smile.  Gotta love it.

I am glad we made it to Rodley since the night before we had moored (after dark) at Kirkstall.  Unbeknown  to us, we had moored right next to a large university dorm.  I can attest that students really do stay up all night, at least some of them.  We could hear them talking and laughing all night.  Nothing wrong with that, just disturbing for us oldies. :-)

We had also moored at Newlay but because they were doing work on the canal path only mountain goats could make the climb up to the town and the local pub.  As you might expect, our stay there was short.  I am no mountain goat.  Not one bit.

While here in Rodley we have talked with many people out walking their dogs, feeding the ducks, perambulating their young ones.  One lady Mike met yesterday was out with her two toddlers in their pram.  They are trying to sell their house and when it is being shown she and the kids head out for long walks.  The movement and the fresh air soon do their magic and the little ones nap.  Mom then heads to the local pub for a hot drink until she can head home again.  Resourceful woman.

There is also a black swan here.  We saw him on our first evening walk but didn't have our camera.  Since then he has been elusive.  We were told by one nice lady that his mate winters on a nearby nature reserve so maybe he has gone there for a visit.  If we catch sight of him before we leave here I will get a pic and post it.  Keep your fingers crossed.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Roasted Chestnuts

Hands up all of you who have read any Dickens. 

Remember the roasted chestnut vendors? 

The idea of buying a warm little bag of these traditional British treats has always appealed.  Well, cross that one off my bucket list!

Yep, there are still chestnut vendors.  They are still scooped out and sold in little bags that help keep your hands warm as you munch.  And, they actually taste good.  I was a little worried about that last one but their flavor is a little sweetish and a lot moreish.

Mike and I shared a bag a couple of nights ago and we both agreed that this was a treat that we would enjoy repeating.  So, our eyes are peeled for those lovely little carts and their delightful treats that are wonderful to enjoy as day turns into dusk and then dark.

Score one for British tradition.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Love Me Some Charity Shops

 The charity shops here are like thrift stores in the U.S. but there are differences.

In the states you mainly see large Salvation Army and Good Will thrift stores with only a few smaller ones, if any.

Here, the charity shops are much smaller and there is a larger variety of them to browse.

 Most are of regular store front size (boutique size and not Marks and Spencer size).  There are often six or more conveniently located near each other on one of the city's shopping streets.  They are not located in strange more industrial areas where rents are lower as they often are in the U.S.

The charities they support are quite varied.  For example one shop might be raising funds for Air Ambulance, another for Age UK, or cancer, or heart disease,or autism, or cat rescue, or prevention of cruelty to animals, or a local charity dear to the hearts of the town's residents.  You get the idea. They run the gamete of worthy causes.

As you would expect, larger cities may have quite a few shops to browse.  But, I have also found two or three in what I would consider small villages.  They are abundant.

The staff of the shops, across the board, are very friendly and nice and we usually end up chatting once I open my mouth and speak and they realize I am not a native.  It is also nice to see shoppers, virtual strangers to each other often, helping each other to find just the perfect coat or sweater or whatever.  It always helps to have that unbiased second opinion.

What you will find and how much you will pay differs widely from shop to shop and town to town.  I have found some shops (some of my favorites) where EVERYTHING in the shop is £1!  Now there is a place for retail therapy with out a lot of guilt.  Others seem to go a little too far in the other direction and their prices quickly convince me to move on.  But, since there is always another shop just around the corner or just around the bend of the canal path, moving on is no hardship.

Every shopping trip is like a treasure hunt.  Will I find another pair of Clark shoes, never worn, for £5?  Is their another pair of Bass leather ankle boots out there for £6?  Will they have more yarn or buttons for me to craft with?  How about movies or music to enjoy?  One never knows and that is often one of the best parts.

store front small
friendly staff
varied charities
treasure hunts
£5 bass leather ankle boots